The founder of Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary in Wisconsin, Elizabeth Feldhausen always considered herself a “cat person.” At home she had four cats and a cockatiel, but never a dog. She also grew up with no human siblings but plenty of cats. Even her very first word was “kitty.”
After having personal experience with a disabled cat, Feldhausen saw a need for a specialty rescue in her area. Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary is a cage-free rescue and rehabilitation facility for cats with disabilities or special needs. (You may have heard of it when their “Cat Grandpa” went viral last year!) Feldhausen also opened the Pawffee Shop Cat Cafe, a coffee shop that doubles as a cat sanctuary. Clearly a compassionate animal lover, Feldhausen would soon find herself becoming more than just a “cat person.”
Rose’s Family Left Her Behind
A Facebook post from Apple Valley Pit Crew first alerted Feldhausen to Rose’s predicament. The Pit Bull rescue organization saved Rose from an overcrowded shelter in Indiana. How did she end up there? Her family left her behind when they moved. The rescue wrote that they “took everyone with them… except her.”
“After 5 years with a family, Rose has some anxiety about what’s going on in life now. Her anxiety comes out in an overabundance of joy and love as she tries to prove why you should never leave. It’s quite sad to watch honestly.”
When Taylor, Founder of AVPC, found Rose the poor girl was super skinny and suffering from giardiasis. The rescue treated her and posted her story, looking for fosters. But as a fearful and anxious dog, she’d be tough to place.
Rose’s story broke Feldhausen’s heart. Though she didn’t have much experience working with dogs, especially anxious ones, she wanted to help. Rose needed someone who could commit the time and energy to a special case dog. She also needed a quiet home without other dogs. Feldhausen had all those things to offer. Plus, she wanted a running buddy.
Feldhausen reached out about fostering the sweet girl. As it turned out, someone else got to Rose for fostering first. But after a few weeks, that wasn’t working out and Taylor from AVPC brought Rose to Feldhausen.
Building Rose’s Confidence With Training And Love
Despite all of Feldhausen’s hesitation, her training work with Rose went extremely well. Rose has so much more confidence now, and many more skills in her repertoire.
“To my surprise, after consistent exercise, lots of treats, lots of toys, and lots of cuddles, and my extremely unconventional cat-training style, Rose began to listen to me. She was going to bed every night exhausted, and with a full belly. She learned to sit, lay down, and stay.”
Rose’s progress has been staggering. Whereas she once barked furiously during dinner time, she now understands not to beg at the table. Plus, she often gets treats for being a patient girl.
“She knows that I’ll let her be included in almost anything, that she’ll always be loved, and that she’ll always get food, so she’s not so desperate for reassurance anymore.”
Rose even likes taking showers, a rare trait in dogs. Sometimes Rose goes to work at Safe Haven with Feldhausen, but now she can be at home alone for 4-5 hours. For an abandoned dog with major separation anxiety, that’s huge! This girl was so eager to learn, and cat person Feldhausen had the right amount of patience to teach her.
“I am amazed and shocked every day by how quickly she learns and adjusts. I know that may not be surprising to dog people, dogs might always learn this fast, but I’m used to working with cats who DEFINITELY do NOT listen to me. I could see the changes in Rose as she began to feel comfortable here, and develop a sense of security. She was no longer scared that I was going to leave her, and she started to understand that her bed was her bed, her dish was her dish, and that these cats were her family.”
Rose Was Meant To Be Part Of This Family
Elizabeth fostered Rose for about two months. Her decision to actually adopt Rose stretched over a long period of time. She wanted to first learn more about dogs, how they differ from cats, and how to treat canine separation anxiety. Elizabeth worried her inexperience with dogs might exclude her from being the best parent to Rose. Still, she felt attached to her.
“Coincidentally, I have anxiety too, and Rose and I are on the exact same dose of the exact same anti-anxiety medication. So my brain is always in overdrive.”
In the end, Feldhausen knew Rose was destined to be with her forever.
“I couldn’t even think about Rose going to another family who might not appreciate her quirks as much as I do, or maybe they wouldn’t let her sleep in their beds, or be on the furniture…..or maybe they just wouldn’t love her as much….or maybe they wouldn’t buy her toys as often…or maybe they wouldn’t be as understanding when she has her “moments”. What if the new family didn’t appreciate her cute dog breath or her floppy pink lips?!”
Rose’s official last-ever adoption day was June 16th. No one will ever leave her behind again.
She’s learning to trust once more, and even to obey commands. But most importantly she and her new family are very happy together!
“Basically A Large Cat”
Of course, Feldhausen wouldn’t have taken Rose in without knowing she’d be good with cats. They have the house majority, after all. Apple Valley Pit Crew assured Feldhausen Rose got along with kitties. She certainly does, and has since day one.
“She gets along very well with the cats, unless she’s trying to lick their butts, in which case they usually whack her. She still gets too excited about the bird when it flies around, but we’re working on it. “
The whole family, cats, dog, and person sleeps beside each other every night. Rose watches over the cats while they hunt for bugs in the back yard.
“She’ll occasionally get clumsy and accidentally step on their toes, they’ll meow at her or give her a warning smack, and she’ll just act like she’s sorry and walk away from them. I know my cats are safe with Rose. “
When Safe Haven got a litter of neonatal kittens, Rose took immediate interest. At first, Feldhausen let Rose sniff the kitties as she held them just out of reach. After a few days, Rose was able to give them gentle licks. Then, she entered full-on mommy mode.
“Every time a kitten meows, she’ll run over and check on them, and she’ll give them reassuring nuzzles, and kisses. This batch has never known their mom – the mother rejected them at birth. Rose was the first thing they saw when they opened their eyes!”
Rose may be a 5-year-old Pit Bull, but she has many catlike tendencies, Feldhausen says.
“She’s basically a large needy cat that I can bring to work with me. She even sits in the cat trees.”
Now that she has a permanent family and workplace in Safe Haven, Rose will make a great surrogate mom to many kitties. She continues to grow more secure every day. A happy ending if ever there was one, I’d say!
Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Feldhausen, Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary, and Apple Valley Pit Crew.